When we talk about “the hand of God” we refer to the first goal scored by Diego Armando Maradona at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. A goal that took place on 22 June of that year during the clash between Argentina and England to reach the quarter-finals of that competition. The Argentine team ended up winning the match 2-1, all thanks to another goal scored by Maradona, which was dubbed “the Goal of the Century”.
The player himself, in his post-match statement, acknowledged that the first goal was scored a little with his head and a little with the hand of God, and from then on the world’s press christened it with that name.
The “Hand of God” story
By the time of the World Cup in Mexico, only four years had passed since the war between Argentina and England for control of the Falkland Islands. As a result of their defeat in the war, Argentine pride was still wounded. However, fate is very capricious, and through football they had the opportunity to fulfil those promises of revenge that this sport is always used to.
Both teams went into half-time with the score level at 0-0. Once the second half started Diego Armando Maradona began to unbalance the match, and in the sixth minute a very controversial action took place, in fact it is one of the most controversial moves in the history of World Cups: the Argentine player took possession of the ball outside the box and passed it to his teammate Jorge Valdano, using his right foot and thus avoiding several English defenders. Valdano tried to continue the move, but the ball was intercepted by Steve Hodge, who threw it backwards and upwards in an effort to clear.
Maradona was offside, but as the ball came to him after being touched by an opposing player, the play was perfectly valid. The Argentinian went for the ball at the same time as goalkeeper Peter Shilton, who jumped with his right hand in front of him, and Diego Maradona jumped with his left arm outstretched. The Argentinian’s fist was close to his head, but a little further forward than his head, so the ball was hit by his fist and went over the goal line. The player began to celebrate the goal, although he looked sideways at both the referee and the linesman. Maradona could breathe a sigh of relief when he knew that the goal had been validated.
Ali Bennaceur was the referee of the match, and he upheld the goal. However, after hearing the complaints of the goalkeeper and the rest of the British players, he decided to ask the advice of one of the linesmen, who went to the centre of the pitch and confirmed the goal.
Alejandro Ojeda Carbajal, a Mexican photographer, managed to immortalise that precise moment in a photograph in which it is clear that Maradona hit the ball with his hand. Despite the photographs, the Tunisian referee continued to maintain his position that the goal by the Argentina ten was correct. Years later, the Argentinian gave this referee a T-shirt that read: for Ali, my eternal friend. He replied with a photo of the match.
Diego Armando Maradona later stated in his biography that he had scored the goal with his hand. The Argentinian said exactly this: “Now I can tell what I couldn’t at the time, what I defined at the time as the Hand of God… What a hand of God, it was Diego’s hand! And it was like stealing the Englishmen’s wallet…”.
Maradona confesses nineteen years on
Almost twenty years after the goal that sparked the controversy, the Argentine footballer admitted on the programme “La Noche del 10” that he had scored the goal with his hand, a confession that undoubtedly provoked diverse reactions from all over the world. Some appreciated the player’s bravery for admitting his guilt and telling the truth, while many others criticised him as they considered that he had confessed too late, because once a match is over the result can no longer be changed.
During a 2018 interview with the Argentina ten, he told former French footballer Robert Pirès that if he had scored that goal with the VAR in operation, he would have been arrested for attempting to steal in front of more than eighty thousand people. Obviously, validation of this goal with the VAR would have been impossible, but not only that, Diego Armando Maradona would surely have been sent off.
Subsequent use of the concept “the hand of God”.
“The Impossible Champion” is the name of a documentary that tells the story of the discouragement that accompanied the Argentinian national team during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. The documentary features some of the protagonists of the Argentinian feat, such as the Tunisian referee Ali Bennaceur, who validated the goal.
Rodrigo Bueno, a singer friend of Diego Armando Maradona, composed one of the most memorable songs about the story of the Argentine footballer and the hand of God. They met at a birthday party in 2000. Their bond of friendship gradually grew stronger. In fact, once Maradona was recovering in Cuba, his friend Rodrigo Bueno travelled there just to dedicate this song to him.
Players who have emulated Maradona with “the hand of God”.
- In the first half of the 1990 World Cup first round match between Argentina and the USSR, an attacking play by the Soviet team was not converted into a goal because Diego Armando Maradona managed to intercept the shot with “the hand of God”. On this occasion the referee also failed to notice.
- During the second leg of the 2010 World Cup play-offs between France and Iceland, the goal that qualified France, scored by William Gallas, was scored after a controversial handball by Thierry Henry that referee Martin Hansson did not sanction. The handball was dubbed “the new hand of God” by the press.
- In the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup, the Uruguayan player Luis Suárez saved a goal with his hand. The player admitted during the press conference afterwards that he had saved it with “the hand of God”. In a CONCACAF semi-final match, Javier “Chicharito” Hernández helped Mexico qualify for the final of the tournament by scoring the second goal with his hand.
- Other players who have had the mischievousness to use the hand of God to score a goal, or at least try to, have been: Mario Morosano, Raúl Ruidíaz, Samuel Eto’o, Kun Agüero, Raúl González, Balotelli and Leo Messi.